A federal appeals court on Thursday ruled that local governments nationwide don't need to provide certain types of help to federal immigration authorities in order to get millions of dollars in federal grants.
The ruling is a blow to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Justice Department, which had attempted to coerce so-called sanctuary jurisdictions into helping the Trump administration's immigration agenda.
In September, in a case brought by Chicago, a lower court had held the Justice Department couldn’t deny $254 million to jurisdictions that refused to notify federal authorities when an undocumented immigrant was in their custody and hold the inmate in jail. The Trump administration had sought to limit that earlier decision only to Chicago.
But in a 2–1 ruling from an appeals court panel, judges said Thursday, “The district court did not err in determining that the City established a likelihood of success on the merits of its contention that the Attorney General lacked the authority to impose the notice and access conditions on receipt of the Byrne JAG grants, and did not abuse its discretion in granting the nationwide preliminary injunction in this case.”
The Justice Department could still request an appeal from the full bench of judges on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, or from the Supreme Court. The Justice Department did not announce next steps, but spokesperson Devin O’Malley said in a statement Thursday that “We will continue to fight to carry out the Department’s commitment to the rule of law, protecting public safety, and keeping criminal aliens off the streets to further perpetrate crimes.”
Trump and the Justice Department have accused sanctuary jurisdictions, many of which avoid collecting citizenship information or assisting in deportation efforts, of turning violent criminals loose and endangering citizens.
The cities, however, counter that sanctuary policies promote safety by encouraging communities to cooperate with police without fear of deportation.
The Justice Department launched its offensive last July when it warned police departments that applied for money from the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants (JAG) that they must abandon certain sanctuary policies in order to be eligible.
As BuzzFeed News reported Thursday, Sessions has still not dispersed the grants, catching hundreds of other police departments and agencies in the crossfire — even though their jurisdictions don't have any sanctuary policies.
The DOJ has placed three conditions on the grants, which are the federal government’s primary funding for local police — totaling hundreds of millions of dollars annually nationwide.
The DOJ said the police departments must: 1) notify the Department of Homeland Security when an undocumented immigrant is in their custody; 2) hold those suspects for 48 hours so federal authorities may visit the facility; and 3) comply with 8 USC §1373, a federal law that instructs local officials to share information with federal immigration authorities.
The September decision in Chicago suspended the rule nationwide as it applied to notification and detention provisions — but the judge let stand the requirement that jurisdictions must show compliance with 8 USC § 1373 to accept JAG grants.
The Justice Department appealed to the 7th Circuit, asking the court to issue a partial stay, which would narrow the ruling’s scope to Chicago.
“Chicago will suffer no harm at all by the issuance of a stay,” Justice Department lawyers wrote in a motion. “But absent a stay, the Department of Justice will be faced with the choice of delaying awards, to the detriment of states and localities across the country, or else forgoing grant conditions intended to guarantee that the incarceration of aliens by states and localities does not impede the federal government’s efforts to enforce the immigration laws.”
But in a majority opinion for the court Thursday, Judge Ilana Rovner wrote that any harms to Sessions from the injunction "is minimized because the Attorney General can distribute the funds without mandating the conditions — as has been done for over a decade — and nothing in the injunction prevents any state or local government from coordinating its local law enforcement with the federal authorities."
Chicago, she added, had "demonstrated a likelihood of success on the claim that the Attorney General lacked any Constitutional authority to impose the conditions upon the grant recipients, and therefore that the actions violated the separation of powers principles."
Judge Daniel Manion dissented, in part, saying that the injunction should be limited to Chicago. "Other jurisdictions that do not want to comply with the Notice and Access conditions were not parties to this suit," he writes, and there is no need to protect them in order to protect Chicago."